“It’s for when you start work, with all your grand contracts to sign and plans to draft,” he said, and I ran my fingers along it, feeling the etched design where the join was, where I’d dip the nib to reload the ink. I’d always wanted a fountain pen but never justified it. Never said it.

Fiction by Sarah Little
Tattooed Ladies by Kelly Rice


when i completed my studies, he gave me a pen.

it was in a gift box borrowed and reused from a previous gift, and i opened it in the restaurant, feeling the heavy hovering of the waiter who expected to see a trick – the long slim rectangle wasn’t a customary ring box, but could’ve been a bracelet. i felt the heft of it and unravelled the discoloured ribbon to find it: my initials were carved at the top, a looping cursive, a small sample -size bottle of ink tucked inside.

“it’s for when you start work, with all your grand contracts to sign and plans to draft,” he said, watching as i ran my fingers along it, feeling the etched design where the join was, where i’d dip the nib to reload the ink. i’d always wanted a fountain pen but never justified it, never said it. bic’s finest were perfectly good for long essays and filling in the odd cheque when tuition was due. bic were cheap, boxes of ten, and i bought them by the pack every semester. 

i started the job, and spent my first morning shyly setting up my new desk, still not quite believing i was there. i slotted the pen into its own little cup, ink bottle alongside, away from the cheapy ones that i’d pilfered by the fistful from the stationery cupboard.

my boss came in midmorning, pleased to see me already filling in my excel sheets and checking off references against other data. noticing the new pen, she scooped it up, wrapping the sleeve of her jacket across the palm of her hand to avoid smudgy fingerprints. she flipped it through her fingers, and my throat tightened with nerves.

please don’t drop it, i prayed, tried to rearrange my face into something pleasant and neutral. 

“this is unusual. where’d you get it?”

the small talk made me anxious, but i tried to keep it out of my voice. 

“my partner made it for me, a graduation gift,” and i appreciated the way her eyebrow quirked in interest.

“some partner. it’s rare that these get handmade nowadays, except for the big names in manufacturing.” slipping it back into the jar, she gestured at the spreadsheet i was compiling. “i’ll leave you to it.”

my partner’s words came true, shortly after, when i had the first of my client portfolio in my office. we’d a new contract to sign, and i’d spent ten minutes with the pen nervously trying to fill the barrel just so, enough to write freely without splodging everywhere, aligning it on such an angle that the nib wouldn’t go scratchy.

i liked that bit of character, but not when i was pouring expensive drinks to celebrate a closed deal. 

after, the pen came with me to meetings. i brought it to business lunches, worried less about losing it as time went on, and slowly filtered out the cheap pens as they ran out. i spent money weekly on new bottles of ink and cleaner, maintaining it with the same care another person might dedicate to their home plants.

then came a promotion, and i took home my new proposed contract to read over, sign carefully. content, i filled in the blanks, initialling changes, updating the relevant contacts, and signing my partner’s name. 

i blinked at the paper, startled, but lifted my head to see he’d just walked into the room, heard the tink of glass being placed on a cork coaster. he looked proud to see me using the pen he made, and i smiled back at him.

“still writing well with it?” he asked, and i stood on tiptoe to hug him.

“like the proverbial,” i replied. 

“i’m glad,” he said, glancing down at my contract. his lips twitched as though he wanted to laugh when he saw his name on my signature line, but nothing more was said.

i slopped coffee on the pages, making them unreadable, and asked human resources for a fresh copy. they were obliging, and this time i returned the contract to them with no issues. 

work continued at its steady, frenetic pace. i issued contracts and collected signatures, compiled data and extracted meaning in a rapid flow of information. 

then one morning i was filling in some papers, writing in names where applicable, and i found myself writing my partner’s name again in place of the businessperson who was to sign the forms. before i could change it, the nib began scratching on the paper, a sure way to tell that ink was running low, and i hurried to complete my ritual of cleaning and refilling it.

i didn’t notice until it was too late, and then i had an executive in my office making jokes about trying to nullify the contract. trying not to let it show that i was gritting my teeth, i collected the papers and reprinted them, filing them with a hot flush of embarrassment.

eventually i quit the job when we relocated to a new city, and i took up journaling and creative writing. my partner left me after just a few months, distasteful of the city that had held so much promise when we first toured it. it was too quiet, too peaceful for him, but i liked it.

when i wrote my first story, i used the pen he gave me – it was the last of his things that i’d retained, everything else going to charity shops or being simply tossed out.

without consciously thinking, i’d written in a character with eyes the same dark blue as his were, and at least two of the same verbal mannerisms. ripping the pages from my notebook, i tossed them in the fireplace and set them alight.

i tried again and again to write, always with the fountain pen he gave me, always with spiral bound notebooks because i preferred the impermanence if the writing didn’t work out. no other pen felt right in my hand by now, and i always found myself working him into what i wrote.

he was my characters; our stories were my plotlines.

it was more than drifting through what i knew, because i tried fiction, tried creating entirely new characters, but the compulsion came through strong when i picked up the pages to actually put words down. 

and eventually i gave up, put the pen back in its box.

when i opened the box up for the first time in so many years, the cushioning came loose, and a tiny scroll fell loose, flopping to the floor. curious – i hadn’t remembered seeing that when i opened it up in the restaurant.

i unfurled it, squinting to make out the now-faded words.

may you use it well and always think of me.

About Kelly Rice

Half of Kelly is a sensible, organised, project-managing mum who lives in Berkshire with her husband, two teenagers & three cats.

The other half of Kelly likes things. Pretty shiny things. Teeny tiny things. Crazy wild things. Silly wonky things.

Lately she has been making things, and this makes her incredibly happy.

About Sarah Little

Artwork by Maressa Axtmann

When she’s not browsing through stacks of books or watching mysteries, Sarah Little is a poet and sometimes story-teller. Her poetry collection The Lachrymatorium was published with Roaring Junior in July 2022 and most recently she’s been exploring fairy-tale motifs while branching out into fiction. Recent publications have been pieces in Takahē, Soft Star and Heartbalm, among others.

One response to “Craftsman”

Leave a Reply

Blog at